Slamming the dimwits who constitute the far left’s leading lights — people like George Galloway, John Rees, and Tariq Ali — for aiding and abetting the Syrian regime’s scorched-Earth campaign against its own people might be emotionally satisfying, but it is unfair. These people are as powerless as they are clueless; they are has-beens, perpetually stuck trying (and failing) to re-live the glory days of their influence, whether that be 1968 or 2003.
What they say and do counts for little in the real world.
Far more damaging in material terms to the Syrian people’s revolution than the slander peddled by these irrelevant eunuchs are the actions of Cuba and Venezuela, two countries where the left’s influence is so vast that it holds the reigns of state power, controls media outlets, and commands armies.
Where these governments lead, leftists the world over follow. What they say is heard ’round the world. What they do matters.
Before scabbing on the Syrian revolution, Cuba and Venezuela did a dry run with the Libyan revolution.
The first article on the Libyan revolution carried by Cuban government’s English outlet Granma, published five days after peaceful protests erupted there and written by none other than Fidel Castro himself, boldly declared with its headline: “NATO’s Plan Is to Occupy Libya.” Castro wrote further:
“One can be in agreement with Gaddafi or not. The world has been invaded with all kind of news, especially through the mass media. We shall have to wait the time needed to discover precisely how much is truth or lies, or a mix of the events, of all kinds, which, in the midst of chaos, have been taking place in Libya. What is absolutely evident to me is that the government of the United States is totally unconcerned about peace in Libya and will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade that rich country, possibly in a matter of hours or a few days.”
This alarmist declaration by Cuba’s head of state was picked up by the BBC, AP, al-Arabiyah, and many other mainstream outlets. From there, it found its way into the far left’s echo chambers. So as a people’s revolution to rid Libya of the serial rapist who ruled it with an iron fist for 42 years rapidly matured into the first people’s war of the 21st century, all anyone on the English and Spanish-speaking left could talk about was NATO’s impending invasion, which, almost three years later, still has yet to occur.
Pity the fool holding the sign.
While Castro talked up the non-existent threat of a U.S.-led invasion of Libya, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez spoke out of both sides of his mouth by refusing to condemn massacres of Libyan protestors while simultaneously declaring:
“We don’t support invasions, or massacres, or anything like that no matter who does it. A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya. I’m not going to condemn him [Ghadafi]. I’d be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend.”
No support for massacres — unless of course, they are committed by a friend, a friend who who ‘just happens’ to be a serial rapist. Venezuela’s right-wing opposition made hay out of this outrage, demanding that the replica of the Simon Bolivar’s sword that Chávez gave to Ghadafi as a gift be returned and asking Venezuela’s then-foreign minister now-president Nicolas Maduro to “explain why the government gave the sword of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, to an assassin like Ghadafi,” an honor that was also bestowed upon the late great Võ Nguyên Giáp.
For backing their killers and to honor their dead, revolutionary Libyans in Benina renamed Hugo Chávez soccer stadium the Martyrs of February. When Ghadafi finally got what was coming to him after 42 years of murder and mayhem, Chávez bemoaned his fate, saying: “I will remember him all of my life as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.”
Rest assured, no one in Libya remembers him that way.
After learning absolutely nothing from backing a fascist loser in Libya, Granma’s first article on events in Syria, dated December 14, 2011, nine months into the uprising, repeated all of its errors over Libya but in an uglier and even more grotesque form. In it, the following embarrassments appear:
“Syria has always been a staunch defender of Palestine, with more than 472,000 refugees from that country, and lost its territory of the Golan Heights to Israel, occupied by this country during its expansionist war of 1967, and a territory it still reclaims. …
“The outbreak of violence in Syria this past March, as in the case of Libya, was neither spontaneous or essentially nationalist in content, but it enabled the United States to take advantage of the winds of change in the region, affording it a perceived and long desired opportunity to replace the current Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad with one more compliant to its requirements.
“While a genuine national opposition in Syria exists, from the outset the civil conflict in the country was fuelled from external forces entering from neighboring Egypt and Turkey. All of the clashes between government forces and the so-called opposition initially occurred in the vicinity of its borders, in a replication of Libya’s Benghazi. …
“In the context of this national conflict, Syria has engaged in a policy of nationwide popular consultation directed at constitutional reforms in order to hold parliamentary elections in February of 2012 – with presidential elections scheduled for 2014 – in conjunction with social reforms and negotiations for a peaceful solution, while insisting on its sovereignty in the resolution of national problems. …
“Growing mass rallies of support for the Syrian government in Damascus and other major cities were ignored. Recent news reports of thousands of civilian deaths, accepted by the UN and Amnesty International, have been grossly exaggerated, with one based on no more than a telephone survey of alleged fatalities of Syrians who are on fact fully alive. Protests against Arab League intervention at the end of November led to an eruption of popular support with demonstrations of more than 1.6 million citizens. These were met with silence.”
With this, Granma became the SANA of Havana. For those who don’t know, SANA is the Syrian regime’s “news” outlet, Syrian Arab News Agency. To give you an idea of what kind of media organization SANA is, when SANA director Alaa al-Khodr resigned his post to protest the regime’s human rights abuses in 2011, he was arrested. This newsworthy event went unreported by SANA; meanwhile, its counterpart Granma toes the Assad party line by not printing not a single word about the regime’s expulsion, detention, and murder of journalists.
While Cuba’s support for fascism in Syria has thankfully been confined to words, Venezuela has crossed that line by matching words with deeds:
- Chávez shipped diesel fuel to the Assad regime on at least three occasions.
- A lawmaker of Syrian descent from Chavez’s party sought and received permission to leave Venezuela to fight alongside Assad’s forces, sectarian Shia militias from Iraq and Iran, Hezbollah, and Greek fascists. Chávez’s successor Maduro called this lawmaker’s action a “dignified stance.”
Cuba’s and Venezuela’s support for counter-revolutionary tyrants in the Arab Spring is the exact opposite of Cuba’s thoroughly internationalist policy during the Angolan civil war of 1975-1991. Then, Castro sent thousands of Cuban troops to fight side-by-side with the leftist MPLA against the rightist UNITA and the army of apartheid South Africa. But Cuba’s aid was not only military — thousands of Cuban doctors, teachers, and advisers healed, taught, and advised behind the front lines.
Today, only 36 out of 5,000 doctors remain in Aleppo; the rest have fled in no smart thanks to the regime’s deliberate assassination of medical personnel and destruction of facilities. Even a few handfuls of Cuban or Venezuelan doctors could make a huge difference in Syria, especially with conditions become more medieval by the day as polio and regime-imposed famine kill growing numbers of children and infants.
The basic error of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments (as well as the West’s state powerless leftists who unthinkingly tail them) over the Libyan and Syrian uprisings is this: their solidarity was reserved for governments and heads of state rather than the peoples and the masses they govern. Castro’s and Chávez’s experience battling U.S.-sponsored dissidents and fake rebel movements in their own countries led them to put themselves in the shoes of Ghadafi and Assad rather than the shoes of martyrs such as Mohammad Nabbous or Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. This may be understandable but it is also unforgivable for a host of reasons:
- First and foremost: Socialists, as champions of the oppressed and exploited, are the enemies of tyrants, always and everywhere. Period. “[N]ever forget that the workmen of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries our enemies” — so said a Chemnitz meeting of delegates representing 50,000 Saxon workers way back in 1871.
- Second: Castro’s and Chávez’s actions undermined and frankly destroyed any prospect of unity among and between the toiling classes of these nations, just as scabbing destroys working-class unity and solidarity. ALBA will probably forever be associated with tyranny among the masses of the Middle East and North Africa.
- Third: Siding with tyrants made the conditions facing the miniscule left forces in these both countries even more difficult, as if battling the legacy of Assad’s and Ghadafi’s “socialism” of the slaveholder were not difficult enough.
- Fourth: Cuba’s and Venezuela’s actions deprived left, progressive, and secular revolutionary forces of the state sponsorship and international support desperately needed to successfully compete with state-funded salafis like the Army of Islam and privately funded extremists like Al-Qaeda’s ISIS. Endless money forms the sinews of war, including people’s war.
- Fifth: Wholeheartedly supporting the counter-revolution destroyed any possibility of Cuban or Venezuelan influence in Libya and Syria. Chávez loudly proclaimed that Venezuela would help end Ghadafi’s war diplomatically through negotiations but had less than zero influence among Libya’s opposition forces — they told Chávez to get lost in no uncertain terms after he disgraced himself as Ghadafi’s cheerleader. Who exactly Chávez thought he would bring to the table for peace talks (besides the tyrant-rapist) is a secret he took with him when he met his maker. Cuba and Venezuela should have used their pre-Arab Spring ties with the Libyan and Syrian regimes to pressure them on their people’s behalf rather than bolster them as they waged war against their peoples.
- Sixth: Cuba’s and Venezuela’s pro-regime stands weakened anti-imperialist forces globally. This may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but the reality is that the only solid social foundation for anti-imperialism are the world’s toiling classes — wage workers, peasants, and petty proprietors. Emirs, khans, kings, mullahs, sheikhs, generals, colonels, shahs, ayatollahs, princes, and tyrants oppress these toilers and so their “anti-imperialism” is flimsy, circumstantial, and guaranteed to vanish the moment the opportunity arises to cut a deal with imperialism to gain a slightly better position in the global pecking order. Castro’s and Chávez’s anti-imperialism could not be more different than Assad’s and Ghadafi’s; while the former stood strong against U.S. aggression as a matter of principle for decades, Hafez al-Assad backed the first Gulf War against Iraq, attacked the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and his son killed more Palestinians in the past three years than Israel while Ghadafi expelled Palestinians from Libya and tortured people for British intelligence. Both tyrants would have happily sold Cuba and Venezuela to Uncle Sam if they could and yet Castro and Chávez saw them as comrades to be defended rather than momentary allies to be thrown under the bus the instant revolutionary principles demanded and state interests allowed. Siding with these killers weakened the democratic anti-imperialist classes of the world and those of Syria in particular — just look at who runs al-Raqqa these days.
- Seventh: Neither Libya nor Syria were of significant material interest to Cuba or Venezuela. They were not major trading partners nor military allies. For Castro and Chavez, these were alliances of choice rather than necessity and therefore all the more inexcusable.
If you want to know there is not a single leftist brigade fighting in Syria and why the masses in the Arab world do not look to the left but to the right, to Islamists, for guidance, inspiration, and political leadership, start with the betrayal of internationalism and socialism by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba.
For this, history will not absolve them.